Tag Archives: David Beckham

David Beckham – Servant or Master in Downton Abbey?

4 Dec

butlers.1900 Now that David Beckham has played his last act in an American soccer role, what is next for the Englishman abroad? Having spent the last five years in Hollywood making friends (Tom Cruise and Russell Brand are mates), casting agents must be wondering if Mr. Beckham desires the spotlight of the silver screen.

I pondered this as I drove to the Los Angeles Galaxy stadium for the MLS Cup Final last Saturday. The team’s ground is located in the city of Carson. “Carson,” I thought, “Where have I heard that name before?”

Then it struck me. Carson is the butler in Downton Abbey. Yes, that was it! Mr. Beckham could start his acting career in Downton Abbey, Masterpiece Theater’s darling smash hit drama set in the snobbery fields of England, on an aristocratic manor cast between the privileged and their servants. But the big question was this? Would he be cast downstairs as a servant known as Becks or be claimed by the aristocracy upstairs as Sir David Beckham of Essex?

Hollywood aristocracy is not the same thing as English Lords and Lady Dowagers delivering lines of caustic sarcasm. So Mr. Beckham would be at a disadvantage when it came to sneering condescension. He always speaks fondly of his humble roots and I don’t mean his immaculate hair.

Furthermore, Mr. Beckham’s accent is not from the plum tree of linguistic fruits. He does not replace his “r” with an “h” as in, “Dahling, pass the sugar.” His timbre would immediately betray him as lower social class in England’s grand scheme of manners. The only thing going for him upstairs is the fact that he is married to Mrs. Victoria Beckham, also known as Posh in the Spice Girls. Her moniker may not be enough to fool the Lords of the manor, however.

So it seems Mr. Beckham may be destined for a role with the servants under the stairs. No doubt, he has been a loyal servant to soccer both in the States and in his native England. He served his country scores of times on the soccer field and off. He carried the Olympic torch at the recent Olympics, transporting the flame by speedboat up the River Thames in London.

But what role would he have as a servant at Downton Abbey? Surely not just Footman Becks bending his elbow to serve the aristocrats their garden peas at dinner. Becks would have to be higher up the food chain, perhaps as a junior butler, serving under Mr. Carson. Think of it as the same type of relationship Mr. Beckham had with Mr. Alex Ferguson, his “soccer father” and coach while he played at Manchester United. Learn a trade, son.

But the butler remains the butler until his service ends with the grave. Mr. Beckham represents a more mobile type of man, an iconoclast. Perhaps he would be better cast as the chauffer who falls in love with one of the Ladies of the Abbey and marries into the family. No longer called Becks by the masters but accepted as David. Too late – an Irishman already played that part.

That leaves being a valet to one of the Lords of the higher orders, dressing him for breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, and bed. But one can’t see Mr. Beckham dressing others when he is a fashion model himself. Nor can we imagine him putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush for his Lordship. Perhaps Downton Abbey is not the show for Mr. Beckham after all. Maybe the similar Masterpiece drama, Upstairs Downstairs, is a better option? Now let’s see, who could he play in that?

Alan Black writes a weekly soccer column, on Friday, for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of the memoir, Kick the Balls.

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I’ll Have a Becks – Beckham Bows Out of US Soccer – MLS Cup Final

3 Dec

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MLS Cup Final

Los Angeles –

Throughout the regular season, teams can take it or leave it when it comes to winning and losing. Not so in the Cup Final. The memory of loss in the big game hangs around necks heavier than the runners-up medals handed out to the vanquished.

Yesterday’s MLS Cup Final in Los Angeles was billed as a farewell party for Los Angeles Galaxy’s David Beckham, soccer’s biggest star. He is used to winning. A runners-up medal was not to be part of the final act. It had to be a happy ending for the man with the golden touch.

Houston Dynamo stood in the way. They showed up determined to avenge their 1-0 loss in the 2011 Final to the Galaxy. The role of party spoilers was the added incentive. And for a while it looked as if the Texans would rob the hosts of the goodies. They took the lead into the locker room at halftime. But Beckham and his mates were not in the mood for an anti-climax. Beckham’s party had to go out with a bang.

Cue the Galaxy’s ace players. Omar Gonzalez pulled the score level to be followed by a Landon Donovan penalty strike. Speculation about Donovan’s future swirled around him prior to the final. He gave notice that he had lost the passion for playing. Was he heading for the soccer player retirement home at thirty years of age?

During a pre-game press conference, Donovan possessed a stare that could have melted kryptonite. Was it a fix into the heart of darkness? Not so. It was the clinical eye of a player who executes when the chips are down. Donovan slotted home his penalty and the Galaxy crowd erupted. The hugs of his teammates squeezed him tight. At least for one night longer, Donovan ‘s star power shone.

It was left to Irishman Robbie Keane to put Houston to the sword. He slotted home his penalty kick, earned by forcing the defender to trip him. Keane is the real deal. Coaches love him for his pace and harpoon striking skills. He fills nets with goals. Defenders fear him.

The hardness of Robbie Keane comes from his days playing Gaelic football as a kid growing up in Ireland. Ireland’s traditional sport resembles a fusion of soccer and rugby. It is not for whiners.

When asked how Gaelic football contributed to his skills as a soccer player, “toughness” was the answer.

The final whistle brought the Beckham era in Major League Soccer to a close. Wrapped in a Union Jack, this Englishman abroad lapped up the adulation of his American fans. He pledged to continue his “commitment to the league, the sport and this country.” The Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack were united for a soccer moment.

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The Beckham Big Top To Close

20 Nov

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David Beckham will play his last game for Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final against Houston on December 1 in Los Angeles.

In 2007, he rolled into soccer town with a show. Beckham brought the big top to a little circus. Major League Soccer needed a new act, someone who could crack celebrity’s whip and park the audience in the soccer tent for gasps of excitement.

Roll Up! Roll Up! Come See the English Lion Bend It! The seats quickly filled. The clowns in the paparazzi kept the circus on the covers of the tabloids – Beckham – fame’s iconic acrobat. His image flew in various states of undress, hints of his latest fragrance passing over his fans, dropping purchases of all-things-Beckham, kids wearing his #23 jersey among the new converts. The top hats of Major League Soccer thanked him. As they should. Their league expanded to nineteen teams. No longer a little circus.

Not everyone was happy with the ticket to the Beckham show. The Galaxy fans turned on him when he considered closing the tent and moving back to Europe half way through the run. The fans of rival teams excoriated him. Fewer players have endured such heaps of boos and abuse. He became the ringmaster with a target on his back. His skin had to be thick. No doubt, money and fame made it easier to endure.

Consider this. Kids imagine being like someone. And who can deny that a chunk of America’s soccer playing youth imagine being Beckham. Flighting a free kick into the back of the net is tried on suburban soccer fields every weekend.

It was the Beckham show. And now the ring will be empty.

Roll Up! Roll Up! Who’s Next?

Read Alan Black’s soccer column every week in the Friday print edition of the San Chronicle.

Away Day – On the Road to LA with San Jose Earthquakes, 1906 Ultras

29 May

When San Jose Earthquakes striker, Alan Gordon, scored the winner in the last minute of stoppage time against LA Galaxy in Los Angeles in mid-May, he peeled off his strip in celebration. By then, many of the 1906 Ultras, San Jose’s wild band of traveling supporters, were already stripped to the waist. In the space of seventeen minutes, the Quakes had overcome a two-goal deficit. Gordon’s flash sent the Ultras into overdrive. The final whistle sounded. The Quakes were top of the league. David Beckham and the LA Galaxy were in the black hole at the bottom.

You’re in Last Place, chanted the Ultras at their enemies in the Angel City Brigade, the Los Angeles supporters group, now in a state of collective silent shock behind the goal. The 1906 Ultras had claimed them. They serenaded the Angelinos. You Only Sing When You’re Winning, the taunt to the tune of La Guantanamera.

Traveling to your team’s road games is part of soccer fan culture. Call it the “away day.” The Ultras set out from San Jose at 6.45AM treating themselves to a breakfast of tequila, vodka, whisky and beer. Their leader, Dan, in an email to the group before the departure warned, “Control your drinking! If people are sloppy drunk when we get to LA, they will be left in the bus. I guarantee you that.” When Dan speaks, everyone listens. He is the top boy. Running a successful away day falls on his shoulders – the bus, the accommodation, the supplies and the tickets. “Being an Ultra is a way of life,” he says, “it is 24/7.”

The term Ultras says it all: hardcore supporters at the edge, well above the norm of regular fan. San Jose’s Ultras are a band of brothers and sisters. Their roll call includes lawyers, software engineers, union organizers, retail workers – folks from all walks of life. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Romanians mix with suburban American kids. Some help design the banners seen at the Quakes games. Others carry the flags. Lyricists compose their songs and chants. Their drummer pounds the beat in the bleachers. All together now, everyone singing, We are the crazy Ultras from the Bay, fighting in Seattle and LA.

The bus finally arrived in Los Angeles. The Galaxy’s stadium security was waiting.  Keep the “hate LA” chants down to a minimum was the request. But it was never going to happen. This was NorCal v SoCal. San Jose was here to rub them the wrong way for the full ninety-minutes. They never stopped singing. The drum pounded, Beat LA. It was too much for some in the Angel City Brigade. Security and cops did a good job keeping out the occasional mad Angelino throwing himself at the cordon. The odd gang fingers flashed and rolled. The middle finger was everywhere. Some of the language would have curled grandma’s toes.

Post-game, the police helicopter swooped overhead, the light beam spotting the 1906 Ultras below, now in full war whoop dancing on the conquered turf. Their ring was jubilant. They locked shoulders in a bouncing circle having claimed their scalp. It was a Hollywood moment, a fantastic ending. The spotlight followed the bouncing bus out of the stadium. Someone had a phone raised in his hands – Chris Wondolowski, the Quakes star striker who had missed the game after being called up to play for the US Men’s National Team, was on the line. The Ultras broke into song You are my Wondo, my Wondolowski. You make me happy, when skies are grey.

The influence of supporter groups is growing throughout American soccer. Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters and Portland’s Timber Army pull huge numbers. The New York Red Bulls boasts three such groups. Visit an MLS stadium and you see how pivotal the phenomenon is to bringing energy to the event. This transfers to the players on the field. It is a marked contrast to other US sports where spectators can be sedentary and have to be fed prompts – don’t forget to cheer. At soccer, you go along to participate. You go along to jump and sing. You don’t need anyone to remind you as to why you are there.

Major League Soccer is now embracing supporters groups as a vehicle for expanding its brand. “At first MLS rejected the idea of hardcore supporters groups, “ says Dan of the 1906 Ultras, “they catered to soccer moms and kids. Lately they are trying to appeal to fan groups. However they are trying to keep 100% control. I am working with Ultras to keep the groups independent from the front offices and the league.”

The day after the night before and the long trek back to NorCal. A deep sense of satisfaction kept the hangover storms beneath the blue horizon. And Ultras talk was already springing forward to the next Quakes home game on June 30. The visitors – LA Galaxy and the Angel City Brigade.

Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read his memoir, Kick the Balls, the tale of the worst kids team in global soccer history.

No French Court for The Beckhams

4 Jan

The Beckhams will not be setting up their French court much to the chagrin of Paris society.

The French elites had been predicting which side of the Seine the Court of Beckham would be established. Existentialists in cafes debated whether this important choice would determine whether he played in left or right midfield for Paris St.Germain, the club he was destined for. Couture houses were giddy with the prospect of a new saturnine era of shadow with the popular designer, Mrs. Beckham, set to ring the runways with her moody cuts. Would the Beckhams be at the opening night of the Opera? Would Becks become the latest motif for post-modernist lectures at La Sorbonne? French comedians were polishing off jokes about l’escargot and Beckham’s pace. Mais, non!

The ticker reports that Beckham has decided to go into the sunset boulevard of his playing career in Los Angeles. The immigration lawyers at the LA Galaxy may now be filing for the work visa extension, perhaps even green cards will be in the post for the Beckhams. Citizenship could come later, then a run for governor, or perhaps a reality show – Down With The Becks- or the lure of the silver screen. A small role in the next Sherlock Holmes could surely be arranged. And with Los Angeles just so bright, Mrs. Beckham may finally break out a smile for the cameras, adding more sparkles to the white heat of Los Angeles. It’s a diamond possibility.

The good news for US soccer fans is that Beckham has more to offer as a player. Last season, he played some of his best soccer in his long career. He will wish to exit on a high. And hanging up his boots playing in America is an endorsement for Major League Soccer. More brand players will follow his legacy. Aspiring American kids will see him as a great example of what it means to be a dedicated professional in a major league, par excellence. Should it all be true, it is a good day for American soccer. Surf and sun has won. The French court has lost.

Welsh Rare Bit and more…

1 Mar

Today is Saint David’s Day – that would be the Welsh equivalent of St. Patrick’s Day, noted more for picking daffodils than drinking with the leprechauns. In Brit soccer, there is one unique Welsh rare-bit, and this week he celebrates his twentieth year with one club, loyalty almost unheard of these days – they sing his name in the Welsh valleys, his sublime soccer skills run like poems – he is Ryan Giggs (left) of Manchester United. Soon, he will surpass the legend Bobby Charlton in playing more games for the club. Some say his statue will be sculpted and set in the grounds of Old Trafford. They don’t cast icons like Giggs anymore.

Old boy David Beckham returned to the Galaxy last week just in time for the Oscars. Watching the sun setting over Santa Monica Boulevard can be quite dreamy and one has to wonder if Becks is ready to step on to the red carpet in the near future. Hollywood is hot for Brits! Tom Cruise stars as the soccer coach who hires an English assistant – that be Becks – as they conquer the world, leading Team USA to World Cup glory, defeating Iran in the Final, and stopping a nuclear war in the Mid-East as the Presidents of both countries decide to settle the issue with a soccer game instead of pointy hatted bombs. Where’s the storyboard! Call the agent!

Speaking of great thespians, Eric Cantona, another Manchester United legend in the Giggs and Becks tradition, has taken up the role of Director of Football with the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos brand is alive and well and the entrepreneurs who bought the franchise name are hoping to add a team to MLS. First off, they will need footballers and a place to play but Cantona is already speaking of “revolution.” Known for his searching role in Waiting for Eric, a film by socialist film maker Ken Loach, and his philosophical oeuvres in the tradition of Sartre – “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown in to the sea.”  With Pele installed as Cosmos club President, the glory days of American soccer are up ahead in the past.

The End of King David?

17 Mar

At least today, the era of the beloved David Beckham, the King of Soccer, is dead. Last week, in the European Champions League, he came home to Manchester United to what now looks tragically like adieu. Four days later, the arrow struck, and like Achilles, Beckham’s weakness was exposed. It seemed as if he was taken off to meet his Great Soccer Maker. His bruised and battered face in his final moments for fashionable Milan gave word that his battle was over, and the gospel writers could now get to work on penning the myth for future generations.

So let us not think of miracle returns. Beckham was the King of Football’s Promised Land. He was marked with the tattoos of wealth and riches, a life of spice, and a gem of profession. His fellow players worshipped his power because he stretched beyond the elastic of soccer. He posed for underwear adverts. He spent much of his spare time as an evangelist for promise.  Because Beckham was not the best, he could not let his feet do all of the talking. And that’s why millions liked him, not for his goals, but for his brief moments of inspiration that gave forth to a vital contribution. He used his kick to sling shots. Beckham was a layer of goals, the temple builder; he was a foot that made.

The raising of Lazarus is a tough act to follow. And even if a hobbling Beckhamite figure returns from the wilderness in a year to occasionally run up and down the field for a second rate team, it will be a ghost, and a horrible death rattle. Better that he remains free from this kind of purgatory. Let him wander as a spirit of the game. The role of ambassador, statesman, awaits the man. But no more will he bend it like Beckham.

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